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October 17, 2014

Dining halls deemed gluten-free friendly

After a months-long process of improving options for students who cannot eat gluten, campus dining halls have received gluten-free certification.

After the site inspection last Wednesday and Thursday, the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), a respected arbiter of gluten-free standards, gave the University a perfect rating of 100 percent. Cynthia Kupper, the executive director at the GIG who helped conduct the audit, said that the score was the result of the thorough implementation of a set of strict standards.

Kupper and a colleague inspected the dining hall site and discussed gluten-free food handling with workers at the station.

“We see [that score] when time has been taken to make sure that it’s done well. But it

is not common that everyone gets a 100 percent,” Kupper said. “The certification…allows [students] the confidence that somebody is watching to make sure that the cafeteria or the food service is doing a good job,” she added.

Over the last several months, the GIG consulted with Aramark, the contractor running food services at the University, and University Dining, on their standards for handling gluten-free food. The GIG will also investigate and try to rectify student complaints about gluten handling in the dining hall.

A main feature of efforts to expand and secure gluten-free options was the launch of a new station in Cathey Dining Commons. Within the next two weeks, executive director of dining Richard Mason expects the station to be certified as one of the only gluten-free stations at a university dining hall in the country. The University of Chicago is the only university in Illinois certified by the GIG, according to Kupper.

In preparation for the audit, the station was deep cleaned and employees were educated about preparing and serving gluten-free food. As part of the certification process, the GIG reviewed and made suggestions about employee training and studied the training logs.

University Dining and Aramark decided to pursue the certification as the growing number of students who needed to avoid gluten outpaced the options available.

“Unlike other allergens, when we looked at our program there wasn’t an adequate availability

to satisfy those students,” Gary Arthur, senior resident district manager at Aramark, said.

“Year after year, the number of students with gluten sensitivity has been growing. That’s

certainly a market we don’t want to ignore. They’re obligated to have a meal plan with us, and we’re obligated to meet that nutritional need,” Arthur said.

Carol Shilson, executive director of the Celiac Disease Center, located at the University of Chicago Medical Center, suggested the GIG to Aramark and University Dining. The GIG will provide campus dining halls with what Arthur called a “tremendous amount of marketing materials” alerting diners of the certification.

The University plans to incorporate gluten-free stations into Bartlett Dining Commons and the planned dining hall in Campus North.

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